The atrocity in Itamar, in which two parents and three young children were brutally murdered by believers in the “religion of peace,” has shocked and dismayed all civilized people. Blame is always ascribed to the perpetrators, whose inhumanity and animalistic instincts know no bounds. But it is foolhardy to ignore the effects of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies that have facilitated both terror and the further deterioration of Israel’s strategic position.
Certainly, the passion with which Netanyahu denounced the murderers and the PA was welcome, even if his “demands” on them were risible. For the umpteenth time in the last 18 years, angry Israeli spokesmen condemned the unchecked incitement emanating from official Palestinian organs – media, schools, etc. – and demanded its immediate cessation.
Undoubtedly, the same Israelis will deplore the same incitement after the next terrorist attack, and the one after that as well. Perhaps it is too much to ask, but when will official Israel admit that “incitement” is not a Palestinian tactic or an aberration but a way of life and a genuine and natural expression of an intense hatred of Jews?
If and when that happens, it can only come after official Israel admits it is foolish and counterproductive to continue to “negotiate” with a Palestinian Authority that is both unauthorized and duplicitous. To even request that they begin “educating their people for peace” shows that Netanyahu participates in the charade. If he knows the Arabs engage in double talk and are uninterested in negotiations leading to a peace treaty, then why would he even contemplate more concessions, including the rumored dramatic initiative of Israel’s acceptance of a Palestinian state of undefined borders? This returns us to the insanities of the last two decades.
Did the removal of military checkpoints outside Shechem facilitate the monsters’ movements? Perhaps, but in any event, it is ludicrous to remove checkpoints during a war. As the scientist Gerald Schroeder pointed out in our shul on Shabbat, every American passes through several checkpoints on the way to an airplane. Those Americans who insist on the removal of Israeli checkpoints should demand first the removal of American checkpoints at airports.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu is responsible for an ongoing failure, an epic blunder that both undercuts his leadership and sows the seeds for such heinous crimes as occurred in Itamar.
Simply put, Netanyahu may not be able to influence events on the ground in Israel’s turbulent neighborhood, but he should be able to capitalize on them in order to advance Israel’s strategic interests. Instead, he is locked into an old paradigm that has been discredited. Apparently, Netanyahu remains committed to the “land for peace” formula that has never worked and is still unworkable. To plan for new territorial concessions to more unstable despots when the previous ones have brought instability and mayhem is folly. So why would an MIT graduate like Netanyahu do that?
The answer is an incapacity to look at the conflict through anything but secular lenses. He is trapped in a rigid worldview in which Israel’s interests and narrative are dominated by “historical” claims and security concerns. Both have failed to capture the public mind, and have left Israelis wondering why their pain, the justice of their cause and their willingness to make concessions leave the world unmoved and indifferent to their plight. Israelis are also troubled that the world does not distinguish between Israel’s claims of 3,500 years and the claims of the Palestinians, a “people” that is a 20th century invention concocted solely to thwart the nascent Jewish national movement.
This disconnect exists because Israel itself doesn’t distinguish between the two narratives but has embraced the “two peoples for one land” distortion of history. “History” cuts both ways. Jews historically resided in the land, but so did other nations, and Jews did not reside en masse in the land of Israel for centuries at a time. For a world with short memories, it makes no difference how old – or how valid – the claims are, as long as claims are made that pre-date its living memory.
And the “security” argument is increasingly hollow. The Arab contention is superior to the Israeli one: “You stole my house. Give it back and we will not bother you.” To which the Israeli responds: “Well, give me proof that you won’t bother me.” And the Arab replies: “That is crazy. Get out of my house!”
No wonder the world is deaf to Israel’s claims; they are as illogical as they are immoral. We don’t respond “Wrong, this is our house!”
Every concession Israel makes or even entertains simply reinforces the Arab narrative. When Israel releases terrorists from prison as a goodwill gesture, it sends the message that the terrorists were not justly imprisoned in the first place. When Israel removes security checkpoints, it sends the message that the checkpoints had no real security dimension but were simply a means to harass Arabs. When the government of Israel freezes construction in settlements, it sends the message that building in the heartland of Israel is illegal and unjustifiable. (Then it wonders why the UN wants to declare settlements illegal!)
When Israel destroys outposts in Samaria, it broadcasts that the land of Israel does not belong to the people of Israel. When Israel allows building only in response to terror, it shouts that settlement is not a natural right but a vengeful tool. Those messages are received by audiences around the world.
The cardinal sin of the Netanyahu tenure is that he and his minions repeatedly fail to utilize the only narrative that carries real substance and can transform the entire debate: that the Jewish people’s claim to the land of Israel is based not on history, security, or the Holocaust but on the biblical fact that the Creator of the Universe bequeathed it to our forefathers, and through them to us, as an “everlasting possession.”
It should not require a great leap of imagination to embrace this concept; after all, it is the very reason why the idea of a return to Zion animated generations of Jews dwelling in far-flung exiles. It is the very reason why Jews sacrificed to return, build and defend the land of Israel. The problem is that Netanyahu, a secular person like almost all of his predecessors, does not believe it. It plays no role in his policy formulations.
That itself is foolish and counterproductive because the world today is riveted by religious ideas that are in both ideological competition and armed conflict with each other. Radical Islam is at war with the Christian West and with Jewish Israel. These are fundamentally religious disputes, even if the seculars among us – Jews and Christians – abhor the notion and eschew its applicability.
That is why radical Muslims regularly threaten the “Crusaders and the Zionists” (i.e., Christians and Jews) and that is why Jews – not only Israelis – are targets of Islamic hatred throughout the world, not only in Israel. And Israel’s keenest supporters in America today are the tens of millions of Bible-believing Christian evangelicals, who are often puzzled that they embrace the biblical narrative far more enthusiastically than do Israel’s leaders. By adopting a religious perspective, at least we will have joined the debate instead of standing on the sidelines uttering irrelevancies.
Israel has suffered enormously over the years because its leaders have been secular Jews who have shorn the history of Israel of its religious dimension, and who have rooted Israel’s right to existence in amorphous and unpersuasive arguments relating to the Holocaust and security matters. Israel deserves to have a believing Jew as its prime minister, and Israel’s large religious Jewish community needs to have the self-confidence that a Torah Jew can infuse policy with faith.
The new paradigm would transform the debate overnight. Territorial concessions would be ruled out, because “this land is our land, given to us by God.” Building and development would take place throughout the land of Israel, as this is the Torah’s mandate. “Settlements” would no longer be an excuse for terror but a natural part of nation building.
Non-Jews would be welcomed as residents of this land as long as they embraced basic norms of morality and acceded to the sovereignty of the Jewish people. Israel would not feel guilty about fighting and defeating a brutal and merciless enemy. It would no longer be on the defensive before international tribunals. Israel’s prime minister would no longer be the only world leader who bends to President Obama’s commands. Indeed, the word “concession” could be retired from Israel’s diplomatic lexicon.
Imagine if an Israeli prime minister said: “World, we are here because the Almighty, in Whom we trust, gave us this land so that we should serve Him and observe His Torah therein. Without the promises of the Torah, we have no reason to be here. And we are here to stay, in the land of our history and our destiny.”
Such would end the days of defensiveness, awkwardness, guilt and recriminations. World leaders (and many Jews) would be apoplectic – in the short term. But they would recover – and Israel’s case would be persuasive and winnable, and have the added advantage of being true and holy.
It is about time the people of Israel were governed by Jewish leaders steeped in Jewish history and values and faith. In a region being swept by less savory revolutions, this would be a revolution that would inspire our nation and perhaps even lead the world to a bright and peaceful era of untold good.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey.